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Nico Sturm ready to play for Wild … as soon as he gets his visa

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ST. PAUL -- After winning the Nico Sturm sweepstakes, the Wild aren’t wasting any time getting him in the lineup.

“I expect him to play as soon as he gets his visa,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday, April 2. “That’s not settled. It might be settled as early as today. I don’t know yet.”

If that was settled in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, a must-win game at that, Boudreau said he would absolutely consider playing the rookie.

Nonetheless, it’s only a matter of time before the 23-year-old Sturm finds his way into the lineup. He was on the ice for Tuesday’s morning skate, and while it was hard to deduce much of anything from that 15-minute walkthrough, he made it clear that he would be ready to go whenever his number is called.

“I know what’s still on the line,” Sturm said. “There’s still a job to be done. As much as it’s fun for me, we still hope to make the playoffs here. For me, it’s two things: Just gaining experience, and at the same time, once I hop into the lineup, I want to contribute.”

Originally from Germany, where the NHL was more of an afterthought, Strum came over to the U.S. at age 18 in search of more opportunity in hockey. He played 21 games with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the North American Hockey League and 53 games with the Austin Bruins in the same league. He then transitioned to play for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League before a three-year stint at Clarkson University.

“My development period was not when I was 16, 17, 18,” Sturm said. “It was maybe when I was 20, 21. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I know the league is getting younger and younger. I’m going to be 23, not 33. I think I’ve still got time.”

Because he is older than a typical player coming out of college, Sturm could only sign a one-year entry-level contract with the Wild, meaning he will be a restricted free agent in a few months.

That said, Sturm wasn’t promised anything from general manager Paul Fenton outside of this brief stint in the NHL.

“There was no guarantees,” Sturm said. “This is the National Hockey League. I know I’m going to have to earn my spot here. You look at the lineup and there are some pretty good players in here. Obviously with the experience that I can gain this week, and then going into training camp, I expect to earn my spot.”

As a prospect Fenton compares to longtime captain Mikko Koivu, Sturm describes himself as a two-way center who prides himself on being solid in all three zones.

“He was strong, and really, really good on the draws,” said forward Ryan Donato, who played against Sturm in college. “Always a consistent player for Clarkson and one of their best guys every year. Not even a question.”

If Sturm doesn’t draw into the lineup for Tuesday’s game, he’s hopeful his visa processes soon after that because his family already is planning on being at Thursday’s game.

“I like the plan they have in place here,” Sturm said of Fenton rebuilding the Wild roster around young players. “That’s a core group to grow with over the next couple of years, and along with that I have great role models here with Koivu and (Eric) Staal that I can learn a lot from down the middle. It was a great fit because there’s opportunity and at the same time a great learning experience with the guys that are still here.”